Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi On His New Book, Creative Processes, Inspiration And More
His book Loss is a deep account of grief, loss and life
Reflecting on his personal string of losses, award-winning Indian author, Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi turned to pen and paper to mirror his feelings of grief in an intimate memoir titled Loss. The book revolves around Sanghvi’s personal life as he set on a path of overcoming the passing away of his loved ones. We reached out to the author to know more about this narrative, and here’s what he had to say:
ELLE: Writing on an intimate subject that revolves around dealing with the loss of loved ones can be a difficult process. How has the writing journey been like for you?
SIDDHARTH DHANVANT SHANGHVI: The subject is intimate, but it is also a universal truth: everyone dies, all of us mourn. While this can be a discouraging takeaway, palliative care specialist BJ Miller refines our gaze when he points out that, ‘Dying is what creates preciousness, what gives us the impulse to make meaning.’ In writing Loss, I used words—the only measure I have—to look my losses in the eye if only to set them aside.
ELLE: With Loss being your entry into the realm of non-fiction, how has the shift from fiction to non-fiction been for you?
SDS: Alexander Hemon said that in the Bosnian language, there’s no distinction between fiction and nonfiction. ‘This is not to say that there is no truth or untruth,’ Hemon said. ‘It’s just that a literary text is not defined by its relation to truth or imagination.’ A book is distinguished by its ability to lead you to the place ahead of language—and you can do this with either form. Fiction gives creative liberties—your canvas is larger. With nonfiction, there are factual parameters, but as the well narrows, it runs deeper.
ELLE: In your book, you mention that you need to learn to be a custodian of memory, of defeat, of regret, and of questions that will meet no answer. To what extent is your book a reflection of the same?
SDS: A death, when it occurs, is like an exfoliation—a skin is peeled back, someone is gone forever. But what exists beneath that? In writing Loss, I wanted to cull out who we become without the people we love.
ELLE: As a creative soul, where do you find inspiration?
SDS: To be honest, the smallest of things motivate me to write; I am fascinated by the processes with which we still the mind so the writing can emerge from an honest place.
ELLE: How has the pandemic impacted your writing and photography?
SDS: The pandemic taught me to write shorter sentences. I am presently not making any photographs. My life before the pandemic was cut asunder from me; I am unrecognisable to myself. During the lockdown, alone in a village, I sometimes felt like I was losing my mind. I was aware of ‘performative sanity’—rituals of life we repeat to derive meaning from a pattern. But there’s a whole new life if you can go past ritualised time, and that part of all our lives is asking for our immersion. I want to leave this pandemic behind but without many of the old, irrelevant habits and thoughts.
ELLE: How would you describe your creative process when you’re writing?
SDS: Disorganised. But I am getting better. I wake at 4 am most days to pray, and then I read and write. I like to get most of the work done between 4 am to 2 pm—after that, I walk, I read.
ELLE: What’s a piece of advice you’d give to young authors who are just starting in the field?
SDS: Philip Roth once told a young writer who asked him for writing advice: Don’t do it. I’d say, do it, do it; it’s the only thing you’ll never regret. But always ask yourself: Why am I doing it?